Vulnerability researchers are key players on many information security teams and these positions are becoming more in demand. Of course, to get this position you have to make it through a potentially grueling job interview process. This article will detail the top 30 vulnerability researcher interview questions and answers for 2019.
While there are potentially thousands of questions an interviewer could ask at a vulnerability researcher interview, these are the questions you are most likely to see. These questions will be divided into three levels of increasing difficulty: entry level, mid-level and advanced.
It is understandable to be nervous before your interview, but don’t worry. By reviewing the questions below and how to answer them, you will be in a better position to get hired for this integral position.
Level 1 — Entry-Level
1. What is a vulnerability?
As basic as this question may sound, a thousand-mile journey starts with one step. A vulnerability is defined as a weakness or a gap in a security system.
2. What is a firewall?
Firewalls are a common interview topic question in most information security interviews, including vulnerability researcher interviews. The key here is to avoid any unnecessary tangents. A firewall is a device on a network that either allows or blocks traffic based on a set of defined rules. Short and sweet wins the day here.
3. How strong are your verbal communication skills?
Verbal communication skills are very important for a vulnerability researcher. You will be communicating with management, other members of the information security team and possibly even end users in an organization. With this said, let the interviewer know that you aware of this and that your verbal communication skills are above average.
4. Speaking of communication skills, how are your writing skills?
Don’t feel like your writing skills are not being invited to the vulnerability research party — they definitely got the invite! Vulnerability researchers typically have to use above-average writing skills when writing vulnerability assessments and reports for documentation purposes. These documents often go to managers within the organization, so you will need to have a solid ability to explain technical concepts to people that are not technically-inclined.
5. What is SQL injection and what can you do to help ensure SQL injection attacks will not plague your organization?
SQL injection is a common technique that attackers use to steal critical data and crash systems. Two things you can do are to perform security scans and properly define SQL database security. While a vulnerability researcher would most likely just identify this vulnerability, they can always provide recommendations.
6. Do you have experience with scripting languages?
A solid basic vulnerability researcher question is about your experience with scripting languages. Vulnerability researchers need a decent aptitude for scripting and will be expected to know at least one scripting language. Some good examples of relevant scripting languages to use are Ruby and Python.
7. How important is it to stay up-to-date with changes in the vulnerability landscape?
It cannot be stressed enough how important it is to stay up-to-date with these changes. This will allow you to possibly avoid new attacks if you adjust your information security environment to react to new changes. Vulnerability researchers typically do this by visiting security forums and other online vulnerability research resources.
8. How do you provide the organization with a blueprint of their information security vulnerabilities?
Vulnerability researchers can provide the organization with a blueprint of vulnerabilities by creating a vulnerability assessment. This vulnerability assessment contains a vulnerability researcher’s findings of the various scans, audits and other methods used to search for vulnerabilities. The assessment can then be used as a security roadmap.
9. What determines the parameters of an organization’s vulnerability researchers?
Everyone has parameters on the job — most are limited by their job descriptions with some reasonable accommodation (like working longer hours if needed). Vulnerability researchers are confined to the boundaries of the organization’s vulnerability research policies and procedures. This makes the definition of responsibilities of an information security team easier as a whole.
10. How important is teamwork to you?
Generally, vulnerability researchers work on teams alongside other information security professionals. This position is vital to the team, as they are the proactive eyes watching out for the vulnerabilities in an organization’s information security environment. Keep a positive attitude about teamwork and you will ace this question.
Level 2 — Mid-Level
Level 1 was only the beginning of your interview questions and focused mainly on advanced tech-type questions. Level 2 will focus on basic vulnerability research questions. In other words, your warm-up done, but don’t worry — while interviews may be nerve-wracking, let these questions and answers guide you.
11. How important is automation to your workday?
For a vulnerability researcher, automation is very important. It takes so long to manually analyze information security data for vulnerabilities that it is time-prohibitive. To solve this, vulnerability researchers use automation in their security scans and other tools to help them identify vulnerabilities.
12. What are network audits and how far do you take them?
Network audits are when vulnerability researchers audit networks for potential vulnerabilities. These network audits are drilled down all the way to the desktop level with a desktop audit. This helps the organization have a more thorough understanding of vulnerabilities.
13. What is the best way to implement a security audit?
The best way to implement a security audit is to automate the process. This is due to the sheer volume of information that needs to be protected from vulnerabilities. Aside from automation, security audits should be implemented with regard to the business and compliance needs of the organization.
14. Describe the interplay between vulnerability research and penetration testing?
While penetration testing is generally left to penetration testers, there are times when a vulnerability researcher will need to use penetration skills and tools. Penetration testing tools can be used to give vulnerability researchers a better idea of their information security environment’s vulnerabilities. This is normally performed where the situation calls for it, such as when a change occurs and a pentest is used to test new potential vulnerabilities.
15. What is an example of a time when a vulnerability assessment is commonly performed?
First, state that vulnerability assessments are performed on a scheduled and an as-needed basis. A solid example is when a new headline vulnerability emerges. When this vulnerability assessment is performed, it is viewed through the lens of the specific vulnerability — as in how it would affect the information security environment as is. Then changes to the environment can be made accordingly.
16. What are some causes of vulnerabilities?
Vulnerabilities can have different causes. Design flaws are a big one, as loopholes in systems can cause vulnerabilities. Mismanaged data is another cause for vulnerabilities, as is human error. There are more causes, to be sure, but these seem to have been sticking the most of late.
17. How involved have you been with vulnerability tests?
Vulnerability researchers have to run vulnerability tests on a predetermined basis, and this would be detailed in the vulnerability researcher policies and procedures. This would be the bare minimum for this question, as performing vulnerability tests is just a start. Creating vulnerability tests would be a welcome bonus for this answer, as it would show well-roundedness in your vulnerability testing experience.
18. How involved have you been with scripts?
A related question to the last is about your scripting experience. Vulnerability researchers may be called to create vulnerability scripts, which are normally written when a vulnerability is discovered and then used to find and identify the vulnerability. Make sure to give the interviewer a solid idea of your experience and they will be satisfied.
19. Scripts are static and new vulnerabilities can make scripting less effective. How would you handle this?
When scripts “go stale,” it is generally because new vulnerabilities have emerged. The way you deal with this is to simply modify the script to account for the new vulnerabilities. Staying up-to-date and informed about new vulnerabilities is the bread and butter of any good vulnerability researcher.
20. What is the most useful tool for a vulnerability researcher?
The most useful tool for a vulnerability researcher is a vulnerability management tool. Vulnerability management is a versatile research solution that combines multiple vulnerability research functions into a single interface. Vulnerability management can give the needed edge to resolve any potential vulnerabilities more quickly than having to toggle back and forth between various different tools.
Level 3 — Advanced Level
You’ve made it to the pinnacle of the vulnerability researcher interview questions and answers. These questions are at once the most difficult and considered to be advanced vulnerability researcher questions. Without further ado, buckle in and get ready for the rest of your interview!
21. If you are hired as an outside consultant, how does this change how you work as a vulnerability researcher?
There are some differences in how a vulnerability researcher will work as an outside consultant. First, and most obvious, is that you will not have a security team to depend on. Second, the outside consultant will have to essentially document everything so as to basically justify their existence at the company. There are other differences, but these are the two big ones.
22. What is an example of an online resource you use to help you as a vulnerability researcher?
A good example to use is the National Vulnerability Database (NVD), found here. This resource was created by NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) Computer Security Division, sponsored by the DHS (Department of Homeland Security) and serves as a repository of standards-based vulnerability management data subject to the Security Content Automation Protocol (SCAP). The NVD contains security checklist references, misconfigurations, security-related software flaws, impact metrics and product names.
23. Do you work training into your vulnerability researcher regimen?
It is important that you let the interviewer know that not only do you work training into your vulnerability research responsibilities, but that it is essential to the position. Vulnerability researchers normally have to train current and future users of the organization on security best practices. This is due to the fact that one of the biggest causes of vulnerabilities is human error, which this training seeks to prevent.
24. We addressed what types of vulnerability research tools you use, but which one is your favorite?
A question like this is trying to get at the tools of your vulnerability research. I would say that my favorite tool is the Rapid 7 Vulnerability Management and Scanning product. This solution provides for vulnerability management in the form of a single tool that has many uses including vulnerability management, scanning, penetration testing and more. For more information, click here.
25. Vulnerability research is a part of vulnerability management. What are the four steps to vulnerability management?
If you are relatively inexperienced working as a vulnerability researcher, you may not know this, but it helps to learn it simply for the sake of well-roundedness in your career. The four steps are:
- Identifying vulnerabilities
- Evaluating vulnerabilities
- Treating vulnerabilities
- Reporting vulnerabilities
26. Do you implement anything legacy-wise for organization employees to benefit from?
This may not be exactly how the interviewer phrases the question, but the heart of it remains the same — whether you provide a way for other employees to benefit from your vulnerability knowledge and skill. The best answer here is to maintain a security database containing known vulnerabilities and other findings that you have amassed. This will ensure that if you are no longer working at the organization or out sick, the organization can still benefit from your vulnerability research.
27. Do you hold any certifications and how can they help you in this position?
While there are several certifications that vulnerability researchers may have obtained, there are two that will be the most useful to them. These are Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH) and Certified Reverse Engineering Analyst (CREA). These certifications demonstrate competency in skills that will take you far as a vulnerability researcher. Vulnerability researchers are not necessarily required to have certifications, but they do help set you apart from the crowd.
28. What is a honeypot?
A honeypot is a fake computer that is set up with the intention to attract hackers to it like bees to honey. The point of the honeypot is to find system loopholes so they can be fixed. Honeypots are set up according to the need of the organization and come in various forms, such as a fake file system.
29. Honeypots also come in different sizes based on the size of their respective organization. What size honeypot would you implement for our large organization?
Large corporate organizations often establish what is called a honeynet. Honeynets are collection of honeypots within an organization’s network to attract attackers away from servers containing actual sensitive information. While the growth of honeynets has slowed in recent years, their use has not and is still relevant today.
30. Do you have any questions for us?
This may seem like an open-ended throwaway question, but there is more than meets the eye here. Most interviews end with this question. When asked this question, DO NOT ask about pay or benefits. This will make it seem like your focus is on money and true success stories never make money their focus. And not asking a question makes you seem uninterested, which you are not.
The best course of action to take is to ask a more personable, lighthearted question such as “what is the work culture like?” or “do you do anything fun on Fridays?” These questions will put the interviewer at ease and make them more likely to think of you as someone they would like to be around for the majority of their waking hours in the day.
Job interviews can be quite stressful — this is sad but true. You will want to do your best to calm those nerves, and the best way to accomplish that is to practice your answers to these questions. After reviewing these questions before your interview, I can guarantee that you will perform better, get a better night’s sleep before the interview and be in a better spot to land this great position.
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